CLOSURE WILL RESULT IN MORE HIV and SYPHILIS INFECTIONS - ACTIVISTS BLAME HEALTH DEPARTMENT’S “EPIC INCOMPETENCE”
NEW YORK CITY – JUNE 3, 2015 – In March of 2015, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) shuttered the Chelsea STD clinic for multiyear renovations, without any prior notice or any realistic plan to remedy the grave public health consequences of this action. Conservative estimates project that, unless significant action is taken, the continued closure of the Chelsea clinic will result in tens of additional New Yorkers becoming infected with HIV each year, at a lifetime cost to the taxpayer of at least $4.45 million per year of clinic closure.
ACT UP/New York will be leading a large protest at noon on the west side of City Hall to demand that DOHMH and the de Blasio Administration immediately and transparently implement solutions that will fully make up for lost testing and treatment capacity caused by the clinic closure.
Chelsea remains the epicenter of the syphilis and HIV epidemics in the New York City, with the highest syphilis diagnosis rate in the nation and the highest HIV diagnosis rate in the city. The Chelsea clinic identified the highest number of early HIV infections—the most infectious stage of HIV infection—of any clinic within the five boroughs and represents nearly a quarter of the city’s STD testing and treatment capacity. Diagnosis and treatment of HIV and other STIs are one of the most effective methods of slowing the spread of these diseases.
"How many New Yorkers will be lost to testing because of this poorly planned clinic closing?" asked veteran ACT UP member Jim Eigo. "How many of them will become HIV positive? How many forward infections will this fuel? Every HIV infection costs New York about half a million dollars, and the cost to the New Yorker who will now have to live with a lifetime infection is incalculable."
The DOHMH and Mayor’s Office have known for over eight years that the clinic was going to close, yet no plans existed to make up for the services lost to the community. Activists find the contrast between the response to the ongoing syphilis and HIV emergencies—in which thousands of New Yorkers become newly infected each year—and the DOHMH’s response to the single Ebola case in late 2014, disturbing. The DOHMH spent over $4.5 million on Ebola in late 2014, yet refuses to publicly commit to any money to help fill the public health gaps left by the closure of the city’s busiest HIV and STD clinic.
“This is public health malpractice,” said James Krellenstein, a founding member of ACT UP NY’s Prevention Working Group, “to shut down the city’s leading point of care for the most vulnerable population without any real alternative is an egregious act that will inevitably result in more LGBT New Yorkers becoming infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”
In meetings with activists over the past month, DOHMH officials, including STD director Dr. Susan Blank and Communicable Disease Chief Dr. Jay Varma, have failed to account for the lack of adequate planning and the negative public
health consequences of the clinic closure.
“New York AIDS activists have been bewildered and disappointed by DOHMH’s epic incompetence regarding the sudden closure of the Chelsea STD Clinic,” said Mark Harrington, a long time ACT UP/New York Member and executive director of the Treatment Action Group (TAG). “DOHMH had over eight years to plan for this renovation, but closed the clinic abruptly and without notice to the community. We will be watching their actions closely to ensure that acceptable solutions are in place by Gay Pride Week, less than a month away.”
ACT UP/New York demands that the city and the de Blasio administration immediately:
● Provide sufficient funding for expanded HIV/STD testing and treatment at neighborhood clinics
● Build an inexpensive, prefabricated temporary clinic on the Chelsea STD site that will have capacity equal to the original clinic.
● Provide funds to expedite the renovations of the shuttered clinic
● Appoint a community board to oversee the restoration of testing and prevention services to Chelsea and the renovation of the Chelsea STD Clinic
About ACT UP: Founded in 1987, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) is a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis. ACT UP meets every Monday night in New York City at the LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street off 7th Ave.
Media contact: Michael Kerr, 646.675.2766